Hugin’s Saga Brightfeather

[Note: I began writing this retrospective in July, 1987, when I was living in Jamaica Plain, a Boston neighborhood, very near the renowned Arnold Arboretum, where trees and shrubs of countless species and variety are laid out in a beautiful setting that doubles as a place for strolling as well as for walking dogs. Since I lived a short walk from the Arboretum, it was my regular walking place with Thor, a dog who had lived with my parents until their deaths three years before, when I brought him with me back from New Jersey to Boston. Following the example of some of the Norse sagas, I’ve given to this post a title in the style of a saga, with a descriptive nickname after naming the saga’s subject.]

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I took my dog Thor for a walk in the Arnold Arboretum after work today. The arboretum is a large tree park near my home. It was a hot, still evening, no one else was there, and the park was magically quiet. We walked down the main road as far as the giant silver maple.

Walking with Thor

Then Thor decided that he wanted to graze a bit, so he led me to the right off the road, past the park bench and onto the treelined lawn which leads toward the linden trees where the Lunar Rising circle had met on Midsummer eve. I removed his leash so he could relax and enjoy himself. This walk was after all more for his sake than mine; I had promised to take him out to make up for his having to spend so much of this hot week sitting alone in a hot apartment. And for all of his long life, he has enjoyed chewing and eating the soft ends of young grass stems, but now that we are in the city, he gets much less chance for this simple pleasure than he had living in the house that was my parents’ home, where there was a yard for him to graze in whenever he wished.

A sound began to reach me from the lindens. At first I couldn’t identify this sound, although it woke a familiar, warm feeling in me. As I began to pay more attention, I recognized that I was hearing a baby crow being fed by its parents, making those unmistakable, enthusiastic noises that come from a youngster who is eating. It was late in July, and I realized that this baby must be pretty nearly fledged-out. But evidently its indulgent parents were still devoting much of their time to feeding it, rather than making it find its own food.

I urged Thor to follow and began to move toward the source of the sound in the lindens. I was soon able to see the trio, who stood together on a low horizontal branch. They were remarkably lenient about our approach, enough to permit me to see them clearly. The youngster, almost as large as its parents but distinguished by its brownish-grey plumage from the glossy black of the adults, fluttered its wings and gaped its huge mouth toward one parent, who held in its beak what appeared to be two large night crawlers ready to be fed to its hungry offspring.

As Thor and I stood nearby, one adult flew to a similar low branch on another tree a short distance away, but the youngster and the parent with dinner remained, seemingly ignoring us. They were more wary, however, and soon the juvenile took flight, closely followed by its remaining parent, and they joined the other adult on the farther bough.

I watched them for a short time further, then quietly coaxed Thor to follow and left the shade of the lindens, thanking the family who had briefly allowed me a glimpse of such a noteworthy and nostalgic sight.

Thor & me in a loving moment

We slowly walked into the open grassy area and headed back out of the park. I was filled with emotion. This beautiful meeting and farewell had provided significant closure to an episode of my life which began just over seven years previously, one which had moved me, and changed my life, as few other events ever have: the arrival of Hugin the crow.

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It was June 4, 1980, when it began. It was a time of dynamic and major change in my life. I was finishing my thirty-sixth year. The previous year had marked the passage of a major Saturn cycle, and the effects of this cycle had continued into this year. In October of the previous year, I had left my single apartment in Wakefield, moving to a two-bedroom in Dorchester’s Meeting House Hill which I shared with my friend Hal. Four months later, in February, I had awakened from dreaming a runestone emblem, gone to my desk and drawn the dream: my Norse Yin-Yang, white and black dragons encircling and engulfing each other and surrounding smaller ones in shades of gray who form a valknut, the whole representing a dynamic harmony of opposites. I took this emblem to be a personal vision of me in the 80’s, and used it freely as my self-identifying symbol.

Dynamic Equilibrium of Opposites

Two months later, and three years after first moving to the Boston area, I had taken a job as an occupational therapy assistant at the Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center; after three years working with patients’ medical records, I felt the need to begin working with patients themselves.

The job began in a strange way. An injury to my left shoulder, a torn rotator cuff dating originally to my first week at Kagnew Station in Asmara in January 1968 from a deep dive into a shallow pool, had reached the point during a weekend of cross-country skiing in Maine where I was unable to shrug the shoulder back into place by myself, and I shocked the young woman who was accompanying me by my request that she pull and twist the arm to reset the shoulder; the sound was akin to that when one twists and tears apart the leg and thigh of a piece of roast chicken. This made it clear to me that I required surgery to repair the injury, and it was performed a week before my date to start work at the Fuller. I was supposed to continue carrying my arm in a sling for another couple of weeks following surgery to facilitate healing by immobilizing the joint, but I felt that it would make me appear vulnerable to attack if a patient were to become overexcited or violent, so I would remove the sling after driving to the center, and not put it back on until returning to my car. Fortunately, I had no incidents, the shoulder healed perfectly, and I settled in to a rewarding job.

Bum shoulder – after original injury at Kagnew in Jan 1968

Then Hugin arrived.

She was a young fledgling crow, maybe two weeks old. Friends of mine rescued her from a cat and, knowing that I had raised baby birds many times before, offered her to me. She became my near constant companion, except when I was at work, traveling with me around Boston and to many places beyond, including to some friends’ cabin in Maine, on a trip to Nantucket during which she rode on my shoulder on the ferry trip there and back, as well as during my bike ride around the island, and to a friend’s mother’s house in Wareham where we gorged ourselves on her blueberries. Nearly everyone who met Hugin loved her, and she was friendly with everyone, except those who showed active fear; them she would tease mercilessly! I brought her with me several times as an experiment in animal therapy while I was working at the Mental Health Center, and she roused a lobotomized woman from a catatonic state simply by walking up to her and laying her head in the woman’s hand, remaining there for several minutes. The social worker later remarked that Hugin was a natural therapist!

She lived with me for three wonderful years, but one day simply died, suddenly and without warning, as if from an aneurism or other catastrophic condition.

Further posts will enumerate and detail many of my beloved memories of the time Hugin spent with me. Be sure to also see the post titled Hugin, which contains a video I made from a radio broadcast I gave about this remarkable bird.

Hugin on my lap